We’ve got a small list of nonfiction titles to go through today — all with starred reviews, and two on year’s best lists. These are all good non-fiction, solid reads. I liked them. Understand: these are no frogs here, and I enjoyed the kisses very much. Buuuuuut… I’m not convinced that they’ll be talked about in a major way at the Printz table. [Read more…]
Marcus Sedgwick has literary chops. Here’s an author who knows his way around a sentence. Last year, Karyn and I predicted that Sedgwick’s Midwinterblood would get a shiny sticker, despite our reservations about the novel’s ability to hold up under close scrutiny. We agreed that Sedgwick’s beautiful use of language and the book’s complicated structure would be enough to put it in the winners’ circle, so neither of us were surprised when Midwinterblood won Printz gold.
Sedgwick’s followup, She Is Not Invisible, isn’t likely to repeat its predecessor’s success. That doesn’t mean, however, that it’s a disappointment. In terms of critical response, it’s on Kirkus‘ best list for 2014 and has received three stars. It’s an interesting and satisfying reading experience, displaying some of the technical skills one expects from Sedgwick. Compared to the rest of 2014’s contenders though, it falls just below the best work of the year.
This book really amazed me by being a story that is bigger and harder and rougher and rawer than I thought it would be. It’s been named for two year’s best lists, and garnered three starred reviews, so it’s not just me feeling amazed. Althea and Oliver is a debut book that went far darker than I expected, and did so intelligently and memorably. While it’s not a perfect read, the more I think about this one, the more impressed I am. [Read more…]
For many, the second half of 2014 will be remembered as the time when police violence against black communities sparked outrage, protest, and calls for change. This is a timely and sorrowful moment for How It Went Down to arrive as a novel about the shooting death of a black teen by a white man. Thankfully, Kekla Magoon handles the plot and characters with delicacy and enough nuance that the book may become a helpful way for some teens to begin to process their frustration and confusion.
It’s important to note though, that How It Went Down is deliberately evocative of the death of Trayvon Martin, even though it’s possible to draw some parallels to Michael Brown’s death. It’s also important to note that Magoon doesn’t just recreate the plot beats of Trayvon Martin death; she’s not interested in a “ripped-from-the-headlines” kind of storytelling. She’s asking a lot of questions. How does a community cope with loss? When that loss is indicative of a larger social justice issue, how does that individual’s life become mythologized and/or demonized? How does tragedy connect and divide the people closest to it?
So, I think I made it pretty clear last year that I really like Alaya Dawn Johnson’s style. She’s smart and she writes books that appeal to me as a reader. But if you dismiss this as just another fangirl review, you’ll be missing out, because despite the flaws (and there are flaws — fannish and blind are not synonyms) this is one seriously notable book.
Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future by A. S. King
Little, Brown, October 2014
Reviewed from an ARC
OK, can I confess something? When I’ve tried to describe Glory O’Brien, I’ve started to feel like maybe I’m Stefon because there’s a lot going on here. A LOT: bat drinking, dystopias, politics, graduation, a dead mom, warring families, reclusive fathers, feminism, slutshaming, art, hippies, and STDs. Like, where are the Furbies and the screaming babies in Mozart wigs?
Which is not to say I’m not taking this review seriously (Stefon is always deadly serious anyway, right?) — with six starred reviews, with three placements on year’s best lists, A.S. King’s newest is getting a lot of love. Only, while I loved the wild ride of this read at first pass, as I’m writing this review now, it’s not entirely working. The things I loved are still there, but I have some problems and questions that are making me think twice as I write. [Read more…]
A lot of things make me cry. A great book, a sad movie, and occasionally, a really moving commercial*. I have a long list and I’m really honest about being particularly susceptible. But I’m also really honest when I know I’m being manipulated in a cheap or shallow way.
The last lines of I’ll Give You the Sun made me ugly cry and it was glorious catharsis. No tricks or unearned tears here. I won’t spoil the direct quote because you really should experience it in context, but I will say that in those sentences Jandy Nelson pulls all of the book’s themes together; those last words contain the entire novel.
Oh lists, we love you so!
And it’s open season for year end lists — PW’s early entry was followed by SLJ, and then Kirkus, NPR, the New York Times, and The Horn Book all joined the fray. Plus the Morris and YA Excellence in Nonfiction finalists (both YALSA awards, like the Printz) were made public. SO MUCH DATA. It’s amazing. So let’s take a look, crunch some numbers, and revisit what actually seem to be the real (for a purely speculative value of real) contenders of the year.
The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim by E. K. Johnston
Published by Carolrhoda Lab, March 2014
Reviewed from final copy
You know we’re not going to get out of here without a Trogdor reference, right? I mean, that’s not in any way the point or even relevant, but it’s still burninating me up inside. Much like the countryside and all those peasants. Which doesn’t get us to the three stars, the three best of year lists (so far), or the placement on the Morris shortlist. The Story of Owen may not have thatched-roof cottages, but it is mostly full of fantastic fantasticness. [Read more…]
Hidden Like Anne Frank by Marcel Prins and Peter Henk Steenhuis, translated by Laura Watkins
Published by Arthur A Levine, March 2014
Reviewed from final copy
Hidden Like Anne Frank is a collection of 14 stories collected by Prins and Steenhuis, translated by Laura Watkins. The chapters each read like memoirs; they’re all presented in first person, in the voices of the Dutch-Jewish survivors of the war. The stories present a range of experiences — some are about children as young as 3, while others are the experiences of older children — although there are a number of factors that they have in common (the idea of “sperre,” the temporary prison in The Hollandsche Schouwburg). The most significant commonality is that these are all stories of survivors, and so the stories include information beyond what we often think of as “the end” of the story. [Read more…]